The always quotable Vice President Joe Biden took a shot at House Republicans the other day, referring to them as “this Neanderthal crowd” for having resisted speedy reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. His crack certainly offended Republicans. But, unknown to Biden, it also may have dissed a lot of Democrats.
As Biden may or may not know, scientific thinking about Neanderthals has evolved in recent years. Anthropologists now believe that the stocky, beetle-browed and weak-chinned hominids were a lot smarter and more artistically inclined than the stereotype Biden invoked.
A few years ago there was even a theory -- now apparently discredited -- that modern humans acquired genes for high intelligence from amorous encounters with Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago. In any event, it’s generally (if not unanimously) accepted that the two species “did it.”
In 2010, researchers announced that modern Europeans and Asians -- but not modern Africans -- share between 1% and 4% of their DNA with Neanderthals, who died out as a distinct species 40,000 years ago.